Why has child support withholdings increased so drastically in the U.S.?

Between 1998 and 2003, the total amount of child support paid from wage withholdings in California increased 45.77%. That figure rose 18.97% from 2003 to 2008, and continues to rise today. The vast majority of states have seen a similar trend in increased child support payments from wage withholdings.

With America struggling to pull itself out of the economic downturn and all the talk of stagnant wages, why has child support paid from wage withholdings increased?

The increase in the divorce rate and the rise of the number children born out of wedlock has certainly contributed to increased child support in the past few decades. However, much of it also has to do with increased legislation and child support enforcement measures by the federal and state governments.

Federal law requires that states establish guidelines for the award of child support as a condition of receiving federal funding of certain public assistance and child support enforcement programs. ( 42 USC §667). Accordingly, the intent of California’s child support guideline is to comply with the federal regulations for child support guidelines. (Family Code §4050). Congress’s purpose for requiring guidelines was twofold. Congress sought to decrease the federal costs of the welfare system by shifting the economic burden for children to their parents. Additionally, Congress believed guidelines were required because the amounts ordered for child support were generally too low. Child support guidelines generally resulted in the desired effect: child support payments substantially increased and support payments within each state became more uniform with respect to children in similar circumstances.

Along with the rise of child support amounts, federal and state enforcement legislation has led to an increase in child support paid from wage withholdings. The Child Support Recovery Act of 1992 (CSRA) provides criminal penalties for willful nonpayment of child support, including both fines and imprisonment. As a condition of receiving federal funding to aid support enforcement, federal law required each state to adopt the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act by 1998. The law establishes that only one state has jurisdictional authority over child support issues at any given time, and obliges other states to recognize and enforce orders issued by any court with proper jurisdiction. Additionally, the law requires states to establish an automated directory of new hires containing information from government and labor union employers, including the social security number of any individual subject to a support order.

Thus, as the costs of living continue to rise across the country, the state and federal legislatures have ensured that children entitled to financial support receive it.

Data used is from the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Visualization created and published by the San Diego family lawyers at Boyd Law.